Thursday, August 7, 2014

Humans of New York World Tour

“She speaks more languages than anyone in the family. Because she plays with all the children in the street.” (Erbil, Iraq)

Humans of New York is the facebook page of a New York photographer who takes portraits of people on the streets - usually of New York City - and selects a poignant quote from an interview with them. The photographer is now on a world tour through the U.N. to take portraits of people in several different countries. I've been hoping he would take his talents to places beyond New York. Here is one of the first portraits, with a quote that fit pretty well with this blog - a multilingual child. I can't wait to see where he goes next. 

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Frozen in Arabic

C is a little too young to be as crazy about Frozen as three-to- thirty-year-old across the world seem to be. She has seen it - or, parts of it - between running around the house and talking to herself she has stopped and watched the musical numbers, even danced a little, before continuing to another room to pull things off shelves and climb on chairs.

I enjoyed this article from the New Yorker: Translating Frozen into Arabic by Elias Muhanna. Frozen was translated into 41 different languages. By comparison, The Lion King was only translated into 15 at the time it was released. Some languages even get several versions - there is a Brazilian Frozen as well as a Continental Portuguese version. There is a Latin American version with a Mexican accent as well as a Castellano version. Usually, Muhanna explains, the Egyptian accent is chosen for the Arabic version of Disney movies. Inexplicably, Frozen has been translated into Modern Standard Arabic, aka Classical Arabic and people are upset. She makes a good point, that if Canadian French gets its own version of Frozen, why is there only one Arabic version for children from Morocco to Saudi Arabia? 

I also liked how Muhanna explained dubbing as translation in four dimensions. Not only does one have to consider the translation of the words, but also the cultural jokes, the music, matching the words to the characters' mouths in the time alotted by the animation. What a task!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Most Commonly Spoken Languages Other than English or Spanish

Read the full article by Ben Blatt over at Slate

This is fun! Author Ben Blatt from State decided to have some fun with maps. I wonder if he used GIS? He used the Census Bureau's American Community Survey to map out the most widely spoken languages in the U.S. by state. He starts with langugages other than English and got the map above. Not surprising, Spanish is the most common second language in the majority of states. 

Then, he threw out Spanish and mapped the second-most widely spoken languages. The results are in the map below:

Wow! Portuguese is going strong in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. This makes sense - I've often heard it quipped that there are more Cape Verdeans in Massachusetts than in the Cape Verde Islands. There is a long history of Portuguese immigration to the Northeast, followed by Cape Verdeans and Brazilians. It is interesting, and heartening to see that in some states Native American languages are widely spoken. 

Pulling out Spanish was such a great idea. It helps to see the linguistic diversity of the U.S. and geographic and historical trends in immigration. Look at Florida. Most people assume all immigrants to Florida are least Spanish-speakers - and if they provide services in Spanish, they are golden. But we also have a large Haitian population, that often gets looked over when companies and agencies are providing linguistic services. 

Read the full article by Ben Blatt over at Slate

Friday, May 16, 2014

NYT: When Not to Speak Your Second Language to Your Children?

This was an interesting NYT essay: When not to speak your second language to your children? by Jim Kling. To summarize his story, his wife is from the Philippines and bilingual in Tagalog and English. He is learning Tagalog, with "modest success." He thought it would be a good idea to practice his Tagalog with his infant daughter and spoke to her as much as he could is Tagalog -  until he attended a lecture by Erika Hoff:

"When Erika Hoff, a professor of psychology at Florida Atlantic University, spoke about her studies of Spanish-speaking immigrants who spoke English to their children in hopes of better preparing them for school, one of her conclusions took me aback. She found that children whose native Spanish-speaking parents spoke primarily English benefited very little from this input. They picked up most of their English proficiency from native English speakers whom they encountered outside the family. On the other hand, when native Spanish-speaking parents spoke predominantly Spanish, the children received a big boost in their proficiency at Spanish."

With this information, Kling goes home and decides that he should no longer speak to his daughter in Tagalog and should focus on her English. His wife agreed with him, worried that he might confuse their daughter and  that their daughter would eventually ask "Why does Papa talk funny?"

It sounds like Kling's Tagalog may have been really, really bad, in which case, maybe this was the better decision. But I have to say I disagree with his interpretation of Hoff's research. He seems to think he can compare his family's language situation to that of Hoff's research subjects. But I think they are very different. 

Hoff's research was with Spanish-speaking immigrants to the U.S. Those who spoke to their children in English, which was not their native language, didn't necessarily harm their children's English, even if it was poor English, because those children would be exposed to standard English at school, in the media, in the culture at large. But it did harm their Spanish by not giving them enough exposure to become fluent. Those parents who spoke to their children in Spanish gave them the gift of being bilingual in both the culturally dominant language (English) and their heritage langauge (Spanish). What I am taking away from this research is that it is always more beneficial for parents to give their child a second language.  

Kling's family language situation is different in that there is already at least one native English-speaker in the household (Kling himself) and English is also presumably the language of the marriage. Kling's wife speaks to their daughter in Tagalog, and that's good. But it is sad that she discouraged her husband from speaking to their daughter in Tagalog too, even if he only knew a few words. At some point, their daughter is going to realize English is the dominant language and it might be nice to have reinforcement from her husband, even if it is only with basic vocabulary like colors, numbers and animals. 

I think Kling has misunderstood part of the research -  speaking to his daughter in Tagalog wasn't going to hurt her Tagalog and it wasn't going to hurt her English either. If she lives in the U.S., she was never going to not be fluent in English just because she might hear Tagalog more than English in the home. But if she doesn't get enough exposure to Tagalog, she might never be fluent in her heritage language. 

My view is that any exposure is good, even if it isn't perfect. I think I have to believe this, seeing that I'm teaching my daughter Portuguese even though it isn't my first language and I know I occasionally make mistakes. My husband's Portuguese is more than "modest", but he seems to be reluctant to speak it to C. I do wish he would at least give me reinforcement with basic baby vocabulary. I hate to be the language police and try to dictate who speaks what...but I'm not the least bit worried about C's exposure to English - we live in America! Our parents speak English to her! But I do worry about her Portuguese. I need to make some Brazilian friends soon, or she might start to rebel, and might one day ask "Why does Mama talk funny?"

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Watching Devious Maids En Español

So, here's my secret: I really like Devious Maids.

Just before it premiered in 2013 I remember that there was a lot of criticism about the show. It disappointed many that the first time a US tv show would have an all-Latina lead cast would be a show about maids. Devious ones at that.

The death of Lupe Ontiveros in 2012 seemed prescient to the debate. In her obituary in the NYT, the number 150 stands out. It is the low estimate of the number of times she played a maid on screen. I will always remember her turn as "Nacha", a maid in "El Norte", which we watched in my high school Spanish class, over and over. She also played the maid in "The Goonies," antagonized by the butchered Spanish of Corey Feldman. The obituary alludes to her efforts to break the stereotype and play more dynamic roles. She is quoted as stating that if she performed an audition in perfect English, she wouldn't get the part - an issue Sofia Vergara probably faces even today, despite not playing the maid on Modern Family.

150 times. That is the context to the criticism: as Latinas so often already play maids in US entertainment, why couldn't this show be different? Why couldn't this show present Latinas as doctors or lawyers? Eva Longoria, a producer of the show, wrote an essay on the Huffington Post responding to this criticism directly. As she points out, isn't it also important to tell the stories of maids from their perspective? Aren't their stories valuable too?

Of course, one twist in the plot is that not all five lead characters are actually maids. One is a lawyer disguiding herself as a maid to unravel the dirty secrets of the white people who employ them. Another is an aspiring singer. But that's an aside. I wanted to write about the experience of watching Devious Maids en español and how it completely changes this context of US racism, stereotypes and typecasting.

I watched the first season of Devious Maids on Hulu, dubbed in Spanish. I felt that, since the storyline is a little fluffy and very over-the-top, it might be fun to practice my Spanish comprehension while enjoying this guilty pleasure. It wasn't so far-fetched to imagine that the five Latina lead characters were speaking Spanish - they do occasionally throw in a little Spanish in the English version. I believe all of the actresses speak Spanish fluently. But the dynamics between maid and employer shift significantly when everyone is speaking Spanish. Suddenly, the story could be set anywhere - Miami, Mexico City, Caracas. It is very grounded however, in the idea that this is Beverly Hills culture: white, rich, elitist. But, you don't think there are white, rich, elitist people living in Beverly Hills who also happen to speak Spanish and happen to be from Latin America? When you hear her speaking Spanish (even though it is only dubbed) can't you imagine the red-haired, dark-eyed Perri Westmore as a telenovela star? Or Susan Lucci as an ex-beauty queen from Venezuela? Evelyn Powell serves a similar role on the show as the Dowager Countess on Downton Abbey by delivering one-liners that make the wealthy seem out of touch with the real world. When she is dubbed in Spanish, you could easily imagine her as the kind of evil villain that rules late-night Univisión. 

Most Americans are confused by the differences between race and ethnicity and have a hard time contemplating that someone could be both white and Latino. Or black and Latino. Or any other combination of race, nationality and ethnicity. But all Latin American countries have populations of mixed ancestry. It is perfectly reasonable to pretend that when Susan Lucci is dubbed in Spanish, she might really be Latina.

In English, Devious Maids has a Latina Maid vs.White American Employer set up. When you watch in Spanish, you can almost take ethnicity out of the equation. You could pretend that, as everyone is speaking Spanish, they are all Latinos, maids and employers alike. They could, in theory, be from the same Latin American country. The employers could be immigrants themselves. Then you are left with race and class. The maids have varying skin tones. The employers, in the first season, were mostly white, with the exception of Alejandro - the Latin Music Pop star. All of the employers are filthy rich - that's why they live in Beverly Hills!

 Watching Devious Maids in Spanish takes out the discrimination based on ethnicity and brings to the forefront discrimination based on race and class. It's structure really is much like that of a traditional telenovela with the white actors playing the wealthy and powerful and the people of color playing their servants. In Devious Maids there is one big difference: the story is told from the point of view of the maids, not the employers. This is what makes the show such a breakthrough.

Now, in the second season, you have a wealthy black family who employs Rosie as a caregiver. You have the Russian maid, Odessa, upset by Carmen's ascendance to Alejandro's (fake) girlfriend. You have the Powell family (briefly) employing a Lebanese maid, rather than Latina. And Marisol isn't even pretending to be a maid anymore. 

*While I'm enjoying the second season, unfortunately, Hulu doesn't seem to be offering it in Spanish anymore. It really does change the whole experience!

Friday, April 25, 2014

5 Ways Springtime Tallahassee Could Be Better

The Springtime Tallahassee Parade 2014 was March 29th. Tyree and I take our parades very seriously. Having enjoyed three Carnival Seasons in New Orleans, we know what makes a successful parade, and what does not. Springtime Tallahassee began in 1967 as a way to show civic pride in the State's Capital. In my opinion, as someone who loves her hometown, they could do better. 

Springtime Tallahassee doesn't need to copy Mardi Gras to be fun, but it could use a few pointers. And more alcohol. 

1. More Marching Bands!

At this year's parade we saw only one marching band, Shanks Middle School from Gadsden County - and they did a great job revving up the crowd. But then they kept marching and the techno music blasting from the Gasparilla floats was just not cutting it. I heard a rumor that Lincoln's marching band was somewhere downtown that morning, but if they weren't marching in the parade what was the point? Parades need energy from the crowd and live marching bands serve to get people excited - that's why they play at football games. Having local student bands play reinforces community spirit. So, where were the middle school and high school bands? Where were the FSU and FAMU bands for that matter? Is FAMU too good to play at Springtime Tallahassee? Having played Purple Rain in the Rain with Prince for a Super Bowl Halftime Show, yes, probably they are too good for us.  

2. Less Racism!

Springtime Tallahassee has always had a racism problem. Wikipedia states there are five "krewes" involved in the Springtime parade (which is kind of laughable when you think that in New Orleans each krewe gets its own parade). The Spanish Krewe, American Territorial Krewe, Antebellum Krewe, War and Reconstruction Krewe, and the Century Krewe. These were developed in 1971 and are meant to show different phases of Florida's history. Except that what they do is highlight Florida's racist past. So, there is a Spanish Krewe, but no mention of Florida's Native Americans? There is the Antebellum Krewe, which hides slavery behind hoop skirts. War and Reconstruction - yes! a lovely era in our history. Makes me think of burnt out plantation homes, poverty and the birth of Jim Crow legislation. And then all the progress and civil rights gains washed over by the Century Krewe. Most controversial of all, Andrew Jackson always makes some sort of appearance as well. This has routinely been protested by Native American groups as insensitive to Jackson's fatal history with their ancestors - yet he is always there!

Tallahassee's population is 60% White, 34% Black and 4% Hispanic. But based on the historical highlights chosen to represent our state, it's clear who got to do the choosing. If the idea behind the parade is to make people feel proud of being from Tallahassee and to give a sense of community spirit, then maybe we should do away with some of the divisive imagery and create more inclusive themes for the Krewes. It is possible to both love your state and accept that the Antebellum period doesn't need to be romanticized anymore. Or that Jackson was racist and really doesn't need to cast his shadow on such a lovely spring day. 

And, just so you know I don't think Mardi Gras is perfect, here is an older blog post about race and gender roles in Mardi Gras parades:

3. Let the floats go down the middle of the street!

Even though all of Monroe street is blocked off, the floats ride on the right side of the street. Why? This means there is a good side and a bad side to watch the parade from. We were standing on the wrong side. It is harder to interact with the floats, harder to catch beads, harder to get into the spirit. And it's just dumb when there isn't any oncoming traffic.

4. TPD needs to chill out! 

Part of what makes Mardi Gras such a fun experience is the interaction between the crowds and the people on the floats. You can walk right up to the floats, talk to the masked riders, tell them which beads you want. For some reason there is a rule at Springtime that you are not allowed to be anywhere near the floats. And the people riding on the floats are not allowed to interact with the crowd, not allowed to toss any throws, beads or candy. They have people walk along the sides passing things out, but usually they are so busy trying to keep pace with their group, there is no time to talk, or dance, or share a drink. Sigh. When a spectator gets too close to a float, as in the picture above, TPD swarms in and kills the fun. This officer was on a mission to make the family to the right go back to the sidewalk on the off chance that float, riding at 10 miles per hour and 20 feet away from them might pull them under. 

5. Be more generous with the throws!

Again, I understand that Springtime is and never will be Mardi Gras. But if they are going to pass out beads and candy, they could be a little more generous. In New Orleans, a general rule for parading is that if it falls on the ground, you don't touch it, because they are going to throw more. You can't go to Mardi Gras and walk away without being covered in beads. But in Tallahassee, they pass out their beads one at a time, and as there is this bizarre rule about not interacting with people, they often throw the beads directly on the ground. WTH? And, because Tallahassee children have not grown up being showered with beads every year, they will actually pick them up off the ground, even out of the gutter. That's just sad. 

Hopefully someone will hear me! Springtime Tallahassee could be so much better!

All Posts on Mardi Gras

Monday, April 21, 2014

Seventh Generation Healthy Baby Party: Easter Sunday

As I posted last week, Seventh Generation sent me a Healthy Baby Home Party pack with samples and coupons for their products, along with a few other companies. I integrated the Healthy Baby Party with our family's Easter party. I actually think the message of Easter and the mission of Seventh Generation work well together!

I used pages from the literature they sent me to decorate. Each green panel has a tip for making your home safer from toxins and chemicals. Here is my cousin signing the petition asking Congress to improve testing regulations on the chemicals used in household products. If you want to sign, click here.

I decided that green Easter eggs would be for the babies - so the older kids knew not to take them. I put some of the samples, coupons and healthy baby snacks in these eggs so that the babies wouldn't end up with tons of chocolate they couldn't eat. I also wrapped up some of the full sized products and put them out as part of the Easter egg hunt. This way, the moms got to enjoy the hunt too!

I prepared an envelope full of samples and coupons for each family. We talked about the petition and the healthy home tips. It was a great day and everyone enjoyed. 

Thanks Seventh Generation for the party pack and the opportunity to share this information with my family. My cousins and I already have some awareness about toxins in the home, but it gave us a chance to talk to our parents - who are now proud grandparents - about why they should care about these issues too. My aunt, mom and mother-in-law all care for their grandbabies on a weekly basis, so it's great to have reinforcement with literature and samples to try to convince our parents that they need to be more careful about the products they buy and spray in their homes.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014


I'm so proud of C! We were at Publix the other day and she pointed right at a bunch of grapes and yelled "Uvas!" I'm proud of her for speaking a Portuguese word (and for liking healthy snacks more than I did as a child.) 

Is it a question of who said it first? Reinforcement? Or is uva just easier to say than grape? 

I wonder sometimes, how much difference it makes if the word is easier in one language over another. She has never said cachorro - always says doggy. Cachorro is a much harder word to pronounce.  Duck is also easier for her - when she does attempt to say pato she says papu. Which, I think, it a pattern. When she says bottle she says bappie. This makes me think the letter T is hard for her, in both languages. amd she sometimes replaces it with a P. Agua is still agua and perhpas it's because agua is easier than water. Or maybe it's that agua is easier for everyone to pronounce than other Portuguese words and even my husband and mom reinforce it by asking her if she wants agua instead of water. 

For now, uvas are uvas, and she loves them. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Spanglish Baby

Spanglish Baby is a great website for bilingual parents. It is focused on Spanish-English bilingualism, but I have found many helpful hints on the site even though our household in Portuguese-English. It seems the site no longer makes many new posts, but their facebook page is very active and is a great place to read articles on bilingualism.

Check it out:

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Seventh Generation Healthy Baby Home Party: Package Arrives!

We were selected to receive a Healthy Baby Home Party kit from Seventh Generation! Seventh Generation is a green cleaning and baby product company. They use plant-based formulas in their products in an effort to make them safer than common cleaning and baby products.

I let C help me open the package. Of course, she immeadiately found the food! In addition to Seventh Generation products like detergent and baby wipes, there were yogurt puffs and puree squeezes from Happy Family. C already knows all about yogurt puffs. Nothing has helped reinforced learning the words AND sign for "more/mais!" Now I have to work on "please/por favor."

Included in the package were enough samples for around fifteen people and a few full sized products. There were samples for Seventh Generation dish detergent, laundry detergent and skin boosting serum with prickly pear. Also Zarbee's seasonal allergy medication and coupons for Seventh Generation, Zarbee's and Happy Family products. Full sized products included Seventh Generation dish detergent and baby wipes and Happy Family yogurt puffs and two yogurt squeezes. There were envelopes to package the samples and coupons for guests and a booklet about Seventh Generation's mission to improve household safety via plant-based chemicals. 

Part of Seventh Generation's motivation behind sending out the party kits is to encourage more parents to sign their petition to congress. From their website:

"Congress has the power to hold companies responsible for the safety of the ingredients they use. Tell them it's time to strengthen the Chemical Safety Improvement Act of 2013, and protect our families from harmful chemicals with suspected links to cancer, birth defects, asthmas and more."

If you would like to sign this petition, click here: Seventh Generation Healthy Baby. There is also a short video which explains their mission further. 

Of course, another motivation for sending out the party kits is that the company hopes mamas will tell other mamas about their products. I wouldn't have signed up to host such a party for just any baby company. I do actually appreciate companies that are trying to do their part to take care of the environment - both inside and outside our homes. And the literature they sent me has been eye-opening. 

Despite being a public health professional - I haven't really paid that much attention to cleaning products. (Environmental Health was not my favorite course.) We often buy what is cheapest, what I have a coupon for, what smells the best, without thinking that my baby is going to walk barefoot over this floor. She is probably going to pick things up off this floor and try to eat them too. It matters what chemicals we use or don't use to clean the floor.

The party will be in a few weeks. I'll be posting a few tips about reducing toxins in the household and pictures from our party. 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Book Review: Upa! Upa! Hip, Hop

When I was pregnant, I asked for lots of baby books. I registered on Amazon and I asked for almost every Portuguese baby book available - which was not many. Almost all of them were bilingual, English-Portuguese.

There is some debate among parents raising bilingual children about whether bilingual books are beneficial or not. Having the English right next to the Portuguese, in my opinion, means that when C is actually learning to read, she could be lazy and just read the English. When she does get older, I will have to try harder to find children's books in only Portuguese, so that she will have to read the Portuguese, not just read the English and look at the Portuguese, with its funny accents and strange spellings.

For now though, I have an assortment of board books that I'd like to review. Some of them are nice, some of them are really bad.

Upa! Upa! is somewhere in between. I love the colors - black and white and primary colors. They are perfect for babies and you can see by the worn corners that C has already enjoyed the book (both looking at it and trying to eat it!)

But the Portuguese text is kind of strange. For one, all the animals are in the diminutive: cãozinho, peixinho, coelhinho. While cute, it is kind of strange when you're trying to teach the names of animals. And why use the word cãozinho instead of cachorro?

Also, the pattern is off. For some animals we learn the sound they make. But some animals, like rabbits and fish, don't really make sounds. So dogs go woof, but rabbits go hip hop. And fish go splish splash in both English and Portuguese? Really? There isn't a way to say splish splash in Portuguese? 

O peixe não espirra agua?

But again, C really loves the book, mostly beacause the colors are engaging. It's a very simple, cute book. But if I could re-write the text, I would. I might pull out my label maker and do just that.

Grade: B-

Monday, March 31, 2014

Citrus Lane Box: February 2014

Citrus Lane is a monthly subscription box for babies and young children. Every month the company sends three child-related products, plus one gift for mom or for the family. The cost depends on how many boxes you purchase at once, and what kind of discount codes you use. For example, the cost is normally $29 for one month, $24 for a month with 3 month plan, $21 a month with 6 month plan. You can currently use the code TAKE20OFF for a $20 discount on your first box. Hint: never  pay $29 for one box - you can always find a discount code. If you can manage 50% off every box, it is very much worth it. From what I can tell the quality of the products is consistently high.

You can sign up here: Citrus Lane

Here is a look at C's first box, from February 2014, to give you an idea of what comes inside. The boxes can vary depending on the age and gender of your child.

In this box we received:

Book: Starlight Sailor by James Mayhew and Jackie Morris ($15)

Plate: Ooogaa Silicone Bowl ($9)
Toy: 10 Boone Bath Tub Appliques ($11)
Mom: Juice Beauty Green Apple Age Defy Hand Cream ($12)

I looked up the approximate prices of the products on Amazon. So, after the 50% off discount, I paid $14.50 for $47 worth of products. That seems worth it to me. The book is beautifully illustrated, the bowl is microwave and dishwasher safe and the lotion smells like a fresh, green apple.

The foam bath tub appliques turned out to be our favorite part of this box. I like the design of the sea animals and the colors are chic. They stick to the tiles when wet and I rearrange them every time I take a shower. They even stick to C when she gets a bath. I have fun sticking them on her belly or her head.

The box is also great as a toy on its own, and to use again to wrap and mail gifts to the other kids in our life!

Friday, March 28, 2014

The Pink Broom/A Vassoura Rosada

Every time C sees me sweep the deck, she grabs the other broom and tries to sweep too. Of course, a tiny person wielding an adult size broom is a chaotic scene and I worry she's going to hit herself in the head with the long handle. So I bought her a child size broom. Buying her such a domestic product doesn't bother me. I think it's a good way for her to learn chores - and I will be just encouraging of this if I have a son later on. But it did bother me that the only broom I could find was pink.

Why did it have to be pink?

I remember when I was a very little girl people would often ask me what my favorite color was. This seems to be a common question to ask young children, doesn't it? When I would tell people my favorite color was blue, people would often say - but that's a boy's color! From a very early age I was taught that some colors were for girls - pink, purple - and other colors were for boys - blue, red. And from a very early age I knew that, inherently, this was wrong. I never liked pink and I was a girl, so how could pink be a girl's color?

I was feeling a little bad about buying my daughter a domestic toy that was colored pink as if to say that only little girls would want to play at domestic chores....and then I saw this:

The tag shows a little boy playing with a broom! And not a blue broom, to mark that it was a boy's broom. He's playing with the pink broom. This instantly made me feel better and I thoroughly enjoyed watching C sweep the deck and her (pink) car. 

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Can you tell which is candy?

Uau! This photo really scared me. Just the other day C spit out a rock. I never saw her put it in her mouth, but I'm happy it came out. Little ones are so quick to put just about anything in their mouths - especially if they think it's candy. So be careful about your medications!

Also, I read this NYT article yesterday about the dangers of the liquid nicotine used for e-cigarettes: Selling Poison by the Barrel. I had no idea how toxic liquid nicotine is. They dye it bright colors and give it flavors like cherry and bubblegum - think how enticing that must be for a child. Just one tablespoon could kill an adult. Fun fact: nicotine is one of the potent naturally occuring toxins in the world. So, don't smoke or vape at all. But if you do, keep these products away from small children who might think it's candy.

Feed Me Words

An intervention program in Providence, R.I., uses a digital word counter to track language use in families, in an effort to close the “word gap” between children from low-income and affluent families. NYT Photo

Here is a really interesting piece in the New York Times: Trying to Close a Language Gap, Word by Word.  It covers a program in Providence, RI which aims to close the vocabulary gap between the children of the poor and wealthy. They use a device to count the number of words a parent speaks to their child, then they analyze the data with the parents and go over ways to increase positive language use: narrating activities, singing, games and even just finding opportunities for ordinary conversation.

The article profiles a Guatemalan family in Providence, noting that it doesn't matter if the language in the home is English or not. The goal of the program isn't to analyze English proficiency, it's to analyze the number of words being spoken in the household, in any language. Which is good - it recognizes that the Spanish spoken the this family's home is of value to the daughter. 

The article reminded me of the This American Life episode about the Harlem's Children Zone. The intro to that episode gives a good summary of the kind of research findings that went into the Providence Talks program. It would be an interesting listen/read for those interested in language aquisition and the lifelong impact it has. Transcript Here:  This American Life: Epidsode 364 

The comments under the NYT article are interesting too. Some people find the program a great way to act on the research about the impact of language-use in the home. Others found it condescending to the poor, as if they don't know how to speak to their own children already. 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Music in Black and White

It's a fact that babies like black and white images. While most people are painting their baby's nursery pastel pink or blue, babies are actually much more interested in contrast - black and white, or primary colors. You might notice that may companies now make baby toys with black and white checks or stripes.

 In the beginning, infants can see mere inches away from their own face and their vision is blurry. Images of high contrast give babies something to focus on. Perhaps that is why C was so enraptured with Beyonce's Single Ladies video as an infant? C has very good taste in music and she still loves music videos in black and white. Below are a few of her international favorites:

English: Beyoncé - Single Ladies (I mean, yes it's sexy, but it's a lot more baby-friendly than Drunk in Love)

French: Banda Magda - Amour, t'est là?


Portuguese: Sara Tavares - Balancê

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Word Count: 16 months

C is at 16 months now and her language abilities are exploding! Every day I catch her saying a new word - of course, that word is usually in English.

English Words of the Week:
More! (while making the sign for more, decidedly NOT saying "Mais!")
Apple (for newly discovered pineapple)
Happy (thank you Pharrell!)
Hameer (for our horse, Sameer)

Portuguese Words:
Agua is still going strong over Water. We recently went to Cascades Park, where they have a beautiful waterfall fountain and she pointed directly to it and said "Agua." To all my delight.

Aqui, she now runs around the house going "aqui! aqui!". I don't really know if she knows what it means, but I do say it a lot when we read books asking where different objects are.

Amor, while I do call her "Amor" sometimes, I think this is more because she REALLY loves the song "Amourt'es là?" by Banda Magda. So, I think she is running around saying "Amor" because she wants to hear that song, or it is playing through her head.

Mamãe and Papai, I don't know how this got started. I was happy that she called me Mamá, with the correct accent. But now she is calling us Mamãe and Papai and it is the sweetest thing ever.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Coca Cola: America Is Beautiful Ad 2014


There are some parents who purposefully do not teach their children their heritage langauge because they fear it will prevent them from being accepted as fully American. If you look at the ugly comments and tweets surrounding Coca-Cola's "American is Beautiful" Super Bowl ad, you'll see that these fears are in reaction to a very ugly, xenophobic side of America.

But let's not focus on the ugly. I hate being in the position of defending a big corporation like Coca-Cola, but I have to say the ad and song really are beautiful. There are seven young girls singing "America the Beautiful" in seven different languages: English, Spanish, Tagalog, Hindi, Hebrew, Keres, French. *Keres is a Native American language - which makes all the "Speak American" rants even more ridiculous. All the girls singing are American and speak English. And they are adorable.

Along with the multilingual song there is a montage of a multiracial, multicultural America. This is what I want my daughter to be a part of. This is why I want my daughter to speak Portuguese. She will be raised a proud American, no doubt. But she will also be raised to understand there are other, amazing cultures out there that are worth knowing about.

English is not under threat. Even if some adult immigrants never do learn to speak English, their children certainly will. It would be wonderful if those children also retained their heritage langauge. Having a new generation of bilnguals could only enrich our country. I wish more Americans could see it that way too.

Related Posts:

Posts on Language
Collection of English Only Fails

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Bom Carnaval!

C at 15 months playing with beads and a boeuf gras, Mardi Gras 2014

As we used to live in New Orleans, Mardi Gras has become a part of our emotional calendar. As we don't live in New Orleans anymore, not being there at Carnaval time is about as sad as being away from your family at Christmas. It just hurts.

We spent two Carnaval seasons in Luanda, which has nothing on New Orleans, but at least we got the day off work and a parade. But spending this time of year in Tallahassee is kind of the worst. No one in Tallahassee even knows it's a day unlike any other Tuesday. It makes me think of that inane Christmas song "Do They Know It's Christmas?" I walk around all day thinking to myself, "Do they even know it's Mardi Gras? Poor souls, they don't even know!"

Thank God for Publix! They have been making King Cakes the last few years, which makes me feel a little better about my homestate's cultural awareness. I brought one into my office on Lundi Gras and had to beg my co-workers to eat some - most of my female colleagues are on "diets". That's ok, I would say. Just start your diet on Wednesday, when Lent begins. I had to eat three pieces of it myself.

We did dress C in her crawfish onesie and let her play with some beads and one of the many boeufs gras I caught at the Rex parade a few years ago. Our church has a Mardi Gras dinner every year, so we took her there. But of course, it just isn't the same. One year soon we will take her somewhere with a real celebration like New Orleans or Rio or Venice. Most likely, just to Mobile.

Being in New Orleans changed us, and even though C hadn't been born yet, or even conceived of when we were living there, our time there will have an impact on her life. What I loved most about living there was how the city ran on an ancient calendar where Janaury 6th meant the beginning of this special season, and it swept you up along with it. Even being away from the city, we feel ourselves apart of these traditions, and C will learn them too.

The Luso-phone world has an ancient Carnaval tradition as well, and if she is to speak Portuguese, this is something she needs to know about. I don't want her to be simply bilingual, I want her to be bicultural as well. To understand that there are worlds outside of Tallahassee, and that to make Tallahassee a better place, you need to bring those worlds into our orbit - or hook our orbit to theirs.

C at 3 months, playing with the same boeuf gras, Mardi Gras 2013

Related Posts:

New Orleans Posts
Mardi Gras Posts
Carnaval em Luanda

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Word Count: 15 months

C recently had her 15 month check-up with the pediatrician. He asked my husband to give an estimate of how many words she knows. He sent me a text message asking me to write out my list, while he wrote out his in the time it took them to weigh and measure her.

Here's my list, in the order that she first began to speak them:


dada (which seems to be for both of us, even as she uses mama and papa to distinguish us)
uh-oh (for when she drops something, is about to drop something, or when she sees me drop something)
Vovó (my mother)
Nana (my husband's mother)
bappy (for bottle)


mama (for when she wants to nurse)

So, you can see how the Portuguese is going. I guess it is to be expected when I am the only one speaking to her in Portuguese. I'm a little sad about this - and then I feel silly, because I should be excited for every new thing she is learning!

Those lists are just the words that she speaks, and speaks without prompting. The two Portugeuse words she says are because I am usually the one to take her outside in the morning - and from December through February I have been shivering and saying "Epa! Está a fazer FRIO!" Now she will say "frio" if she touches ice or when someone changes her diaper. And she says "agua" because I am usually the one to give a bath, and I say "agua" as I drip it down her back. It's always warm water, (by the way).

But no matter how many times I show her a duck and say "pato" she still says "duk". 

I guess I could count mamá, papá and vovó as Portuguese words. She really gets the accent right. So much that I know when she is saying "mamá" for me, versus "mama" because she wants to nurse. And when she really wants to be cute she will say "papa, papai, papi" while trying to wake up my husband.

Words that she understands, but does not yet say:


She understands everything. If we talk about brushing teeth, she touches her teeth. If we talk about food she starts to squeak for food. We really have to watch ourselves now.


tchau - she will wave, and maybe say something similar to tchau, but prefers "bye"
beijo - she will give a kiss on command, if she feels like it
abraço - she is much more generous with the hugs
mais - she signs for more, but does not yet say "more" in English or Portuguese
fofa - she knows that's something we say just to her

It's a work in progress! Every day she says something new - really, this list is already outdated. I think I'll update the word count once a month or so.


Friday, February 28, 2014

Our Language Situation

I am teaching my 15 month old daughter, C, Portuguese. I am fluent, but not a native speaker of Portuguese. I lived in Mozambique for two years and later, with my husband, lived in Angola for almost two years. My husband speaks and understands Portuguese, but does not consider himself fluent - and won't really speak it in front of me and doesn't believe me when I say his Portuguese is good! Neither of our families speak Portuguese and our hometown of Tallahassee is not the most diverse city in Florida - although international FSU students may be a great resource for us in the future. For now, I am kind of on my own in teaching her to be bilingual. It's just me and our friends Caetano Veloso and Vila Sésamo on YouTube.

We are, by default, a One Parent, One Language family with all of the Portuguese coming from me. Obviously, I speak a lot of English to her and in front of her. But I really do try, especially when it's just the two of us, to speak to her in Portuguese as much as I can. I encourage my mom to say the few words she knows like "beijo" and "tchau tchau". And I encourage my husband to do the same. It can be frustrating when I see him practicing colors and numbers with her in English. I think to myself - but she is going to learn colors and numbers in English from everyone else in her life! I know he knows colors and numbers in Portuguese, so I wish he would teach them to her in Portuguese first.

I was motivated recently to start keeping this blog because her language has really picked up in the last month. She has moved beyond "mama" and "papa" and the "dada" that she uses for both of us. When she first began saying "doggy" and "duck" I have to admit that the joy of hearing her talk was twinged with sadness that she isn't also saying "cachorro" or "pato" despite the fact that I have taught her those words too. Admittedly, cachorro is a harder word to say than doggy. But pato? We have began intense "Seu Lobato" sing-a-longs to catch up her Portugese bestiary vocabulary to her English. (Seu Lobato is Old MacDonald in Portuguese, and I have only recently learned it myself.)

Aside from my mother's question "But shouldn't she learn English first?", our family is supportive of the idea of raising her bilingual. I think it is my job to figure out ways for them to help, even when they don't speak the language themselves. One way to endear my mom to the idea was to have C call her Vovó, short for Avó - grandmother in Portuguese. After much coaching and repitition, both my mother and C can say Vovó perfectly. It has definitely stuck. When we pull up to my mom's house, C now squeals "Vovooo!" This makes both my mom and I smile.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Welcome to Brilha, Brilha, Little Star!

(Lyrics below!)

This blog has had many incarnations - it started as "A Minha Vida", about my new life in New Orleans, then when I moved to Angola and began a new blog about that new life called "Maruvu", this blog became "Vector Control", more about public health and less about personal stories. We've been home from Angola for over a year - a year completely taken over my the addition to our little family, C. There are so many parenting blogs out there - and I see why, much advice is needed! - but the aspect of parenting I most want to chronicle is my attempt to raise my daughter bilingual in Portuguese.

This phase of the blog will be called "Brilha Brilha, Little Star", a mix of the English and Portuguese versions of the song "Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star." I will post mostly about my experience teaching C. Portuguese, but also other interesting items about linguistics, travel and maybe some public health themes too.

While I speak Portuguese fluently, I am not a native speaker myself. This will make it harder - but I have felt very encouraged by other blogs by parents who are also not native speakers of the language they are teaching their children. From what I can tell so far, bilingual parenting is a lot like breastfeeding - it helps to know you aren't alone, that everyone's experience is different, complicated, but ultimately invaluable!

And, for those who may have come across this blog while looking for the Portuguese lyrics to "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Start", here you are: 

Brilha, Brilha, Estrelinha - Português

Brilha, brilha estrelinha,
Lá no céu pequenininha.

Solitária se conduz,
Pelo céu com tua luz.

Noite a noite veja bem,
Fico triste se não vem.

Brilha, brilha estrelinha,
Lá no céu pequenininha,

Lá no alto brilhas tu,
Dando luz ao céu azul.

Olha só repare bem,
Já dormiu o meu neném

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star - English

Twinkle, twinkle, little star

How I wonder what you are.
Up above the world so high,
Like a diamond in the sky.
Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
How I wonder what you are. 

Other posts on Portuguese.